Itshak Holtz is an artist totally immersed in the Jewish genre. He was born in Poland, grew up in Israel, mainly in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Geula, and for the last 35 years he has maintained homes in both New York and Jerusalem.
The outsider artist has become a fixture of the postmodern age. There are exhibitions, books, symposia and museums documenting artists who create outside the accepted norms of "fine art." The French artist Jean Dubuffet along with Andre Breton first defined outsider art as Art Brut (Raw Art) in 1945 and collected examples of work they considered "uncooked" by either classical or contemporary cultural influences.
Some artists are very deliberate; planning, plotting and calculating each aesthetic move to nurture an elaborate artistic program or a growing career. They are proud to assert control over their creativity.
A group show, like the one at the Brooklyn Jewish Arts Gallery opening on May 15, is notoriously difficult to view. The uniqueness of each artist's perspective fractures the experience into unrelated segments.
The Contemporary Art/Recent Acquisitions exhibition, on view until July 27 at the Jewish Museum, is a multi-media event that poses more questions than it answers. The exhibition includes six videos, eight large photographic works of various kinds, some luxuriously mounted on aluminum panels, one assemblage, one steel sculpture with touch sensitive light sockets, two drawings and one acrylic painting.
The Holocaust was the largest mass murder in human history. It casts an indelible shadow over everything that follows, twisting morality and normative values in unfathomable ways. The vast complicity of Western Civilization in the pre-meditated murder of six million Jews taints all culture and intellectual life to this day.
Autour du Coq Rouge (Around the Red Rooster), painted in 1982 by a 95-year-old Marc Chagall (1887-1985), the most famous Jewish artist of the 20th Century, puzzles us with its mysterious loveliness and grace. The Chagall bursts upon us in a passionate torrent, scintillating our visual sensibilities with pinks, hot violets and lush greens that are only partially soothed by the flickering blues of distant skies.
A farbrengen is a gathering of Hasidim in the presence of their holy Rebbe to learn Torah and hear his words of wisdom. This exhibition is such a gathering. The hitherto unseen photographs by the photographer Jerry Dantzic present the collective fabric and texture of the Lubavitch community. The Torah life of a hasid is seen in a joyous wedding dance, tender moments at the bedeckening and under the chupah, a l'chaim to the Rebbe, and rapt attention at leining on Purim morning.
All Jewish Art depends upon the choice of subject as the primary vehicle to elicit meaning. Style, composition, form and innovation operate in the context of the theme drawn from Jewish texts, commentaries, Midrashim and history. For the artist, that initial choice inevitably influences the artistic agenda of what follows. In the Sarajevo Haggadah, one of the most treasured masterpieces of the Jewish people, the artist's choice of Biblical passages molded the intellectual shape and tone of this 14th Century Catalonian masterpiece.
Some people may believe Jewish Art is a simple endeavor. All you need is a Jew who makes art and voila, Jewish Art! I say to these cultural determinists, not so fast. You think Jewishness flows in the blood like chicken soup.